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FarSouthExp @ Fat Birder / WAND

We are Birders - We are Leica

We are Birders - We are Leica

2014.12.12 18:48:39
Maguari Stork Ciconia maguari, back in Chile after 4 decades

The Lluta River mouth north of Arica in Chile has always been a magnet for vagrant and rare bird species (especially shorebirds) and birdwatchers alike, but nothing had prepared us for the appearance of a bird that has reached an almost mythical realm in the country's bird lore during the past century, the Maguari Stork, Ciconia maguari.

This stork is a rather common bird in other South American countries east of the Andes and historically was occasionally present in wetlands in Chile, especially in the 19th century and apparently in years of drought east of the Andes, when birds apparently crossed mountain passes flying west into the country. However, after most interior wetlands in Chile were drained for agriculture in the early 20th century, by the '50s they were a rare vagrant and as such were seldom reported, with only a handful of undocumented sightings, the last one known from 1971, 43 years ago.

Less than a month ago, precisely on November 13th this year, we were surveying the river mouth looking for waders with British shorebird expert Richard Chandler when we noticed a big bird circling high above the area. The silhouette and colours were typical for a stork in flight, with large, rectangular wings with long, spread primaries, long, outstretched neck, long, powerful bill and legs extended backwards. The white body and black primaries and broad black trailing edge to the wing were also typical of storks, as were the slow, deep and powerful wingbeats. The sheer size (we were able to compare directly with Turkey Vultures soaring below it), body and wing colours and especially the red legs and red lores were diagnostic for the species, and the photos taken are most probably the first (and only, so far) for the species in Chile.

After describing a couple of broad circles high in the air, the bird headed north, gaining altitude and eventually disappearing in the skies, never to be seen again during that day or the following, when we left the area.

Here's our bird, the quality of the photo is less than ideal because of the distance, harsh midday light and hazy seaside atmosphere, but good enough for a positive identification:


maguari stork

Maguari Stork Ciconia maguari, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions